Olalekan Obisesan, our #SustyPerson for the Month of August is a Grassroots Campaigner, Green Farmer and Youth Advocate who currently work as the Campaigns Assistant for ONE in Nigeria. At ONE, he supports the Digital and Campaigns Team to deliver actions that engage new and existing ONE members and Champions in Nigeria. He also supports grassroots engagement for ONE’s issues and helps to deliver impactful and innovative campaigns.

Prior to joining ONE, Olalekan worked and volunteered for a number of local and international organizations and initiatives which include Face of Agriculture Africa (FAA), Annie’s Place Child Development Initiative and Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) –where he was recognized as one of the few outstanding national volunteers in 2015.

Over the last few years, his campaigning work has focused on issues around Health, Education, Agriculture & Food Security, and Climate Action.

We caught up with Olalekan recently. Read on to learn more about him and gain insight into his work.

Your career trajectory dwells heavily on development work. Did you choose the development sector or the development sector chose you?

I would say both. I cannot remember exactly when I started supporting development causes because volunteering comes to me naturally but I became deliberate about it when I was 17. That was my first year at the University. Over the past 9 years, I have been opportune to work and volunteer for a number of local and international organizations/initiatives which include Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), Annie’s Place Child Development Initiative, Face of Agriculture Africa (FAA), and now ONE. My career with ONE started in 2016 when I left my job as a Customer Experience Management personnel at a bank in Lagos (after spending just six weeks with the bank) to take a paid internship position at ONE. The internship was initially designed to last for just 3 months but because of my love for development work, I chose it. Family and friends queried that decision because they felt I left a job that had security (at least to a reasonable extent) for an uncertain future. But today, I can say it was one of the best decisions I have taken in my life.

What do you love most about your work in ONE Nigeria?

I love the fact that I go to work every morning knowing that my contributions can help lift one person out of poverty directly or indirectly. This gives me a strong sense of fulfilment. I also enjoy working closely with these amazing young activists called the ONE Champions. Supporting them to make an impact in their local communities gives me this inner joy and inspiration do more.

How true is the belief that one needs a graduate degree to start a career in global development and humanitarian organisations like ONE?

I think this largely depends on the role or aspect of development you are considering as well as where you plan to start from. For some roles, all you need is an undergraduate degree and for some, you need a graduate degree. For instance, for most organizations, you do not need a graduate degree to apply for an internship role in some organizations. In fact, some organisations recruit student interns. So ideally, I would say a graduate degree is not a must have to “start” a career in global development organisations but it is an advantage –especially for highly technical roles.

Can you kindly state some of the skills that will mark one for success in the development sector?

To sharpen your edge in the development sector, strong office based skills are vital for many entry-level roles. Relevant specialist skills such as marketing, interpersonal, communication: oral & written and digital are also useful. Most of these skills depend on the role you are considering but one major skill that I consider relevant irrespective of the role or aspect of development you are considering is the problem-solving skill.

While everyone is tasked with some form of problem-solving in their workplace, not all employees are good at it. These days, employers are looking for employees who have demonstrated problem-solving skills because no organization is immune to the regular onslaught of problems. In fact, most developments focused organisations were set up to combat the countless challenges facing our world. I think the best way to approach this is to make problem-solving a habit, this empowers us to solve not only our own problems but also the challenges of our organisation, communities — and maybe even the world.

Another valuable weapon in your arsenal may be volunteering experience or internships. This is very critical to your growth and success in the sector. Above all, based on my interaction with some accomplished professionals in the sector, you have to be a continuous learner if you desire to fly high in the development sector.

What are some of the challenges that one can expect to face while working in the development sector – drawing references from your own experience?

From my own experience, one major challenge that I see is getting policymakers to do what they are not willing to do. It requires a high degree of persistence. For instance, At ONE, we believe the fight against poverty isn’t about charity, but about justice and equality. Therefore, we mobilize and organize ONE members into a lobbying force that pressures leaders to implement development policies that support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and benefit those who live in conditions of extreme poverty particularly in Africa. You would agree with me that this is a challenging task considering the fact that it often takes time to achieve your desired result when you use this advocacy model. Nonetheless, we go to work each day knowing that advocating for policy change is like moving a mountain and we will not stop until we end extreme poverty.

What is your favourite SDG?

Considering the fact that all the 17 goals are interdependent, it is difficult to pick one. However, I think I am more passionate about Goal 1 (No Poverty), 3 (Good Health and Well-Being for People) and 13 (Climate Action)

How do we reach you for questions or comments?

You can send me an email via [email protected] or follow me on Twitter @LekanObisesan to see my own little contribution to the fight against extreme poverty in Nigeria through grassroots campaigning.

Elias Gbadamosi
Elias is a GRI trained sustainability professional keen on communicating sustainability and advising organizations and governments on how to achieve their overarching goals in a responsible manner. He is selectively quiet, and loves good tea.